It doesn't. It is a BASTARD sword. It does not conform.
Game Balance is important, and not just from a 'purity of mathematics' standpoint (although that level of elegance is nice to see, it's esoteric enough to be ignored). But Game Balance is important because another way to say 'game balance' is 'being fair to your players'. And honestly, when being fair to my players clashes with 'realism', I will choose the former every time.
Legolas keeps up with Gimli.
If our fantasy game doesn't allow for that, or only allows for it in a very restrictive sense (you gotta go Rogue, bruh, don't worry about the fact that Str dudes can be Fighers, Paladins, or Barbarians), we have failed our players.
If we really need to get down and dirty with a real life melee, well then, let's remember that hit points are a game representation of overall character health, and that damage points are a game representation of how effective your 6 seconds of attack were against that person's health (although 'realism' is a word that shouldn't be within a mile of the phrase 'hit points', but that's a topic for another time).
Now, if we're being realistic, a strong person will hit harder, but a nimble person will hit more times within that same 6 second period. So, Strength characters hit harder, but Dexterity fighters will get in more attacks per turn, right? Oh, nope, sure don't. Why? Because it would be a game balance nightmare.
So, what do we do? We can't give Dex fighters extra attacks, it's super hard. How about we just give them the same attacks, but also the same damage as Strength fighters? Once again, damage is just how effective your 6 seconds of attack were, and whether it's three quick fencing jabs to soft spots or a single crushing blow from a warhammer, you're equally hosed... but the rules don't bear that out. Where's the realism?!
It feels like "roll regular damage then double it" is a reasonable way to make crits not take more time than regular hits. All you're really losing is "odd numbered damage".
In the 'feels' department, certainly. It's (basically) just as fast as a regular roll, and still feels good. Problem is, it's even more varied, statistically, than rolling the bucket o' dice.
PF1e damage, with regard to crit, was consistent. Being able to set player expectations is important, and going in knowing that a crit would carve a real chunk out of someone was always nice. It wasn't jump-up-from-the-table-and-holler fun, but it certainly was worth a solid fist-pump.
PF2e damage, with regard to crit, is a lot of fun... when the dice are kind. You want to watch a player deflate? Let them roll that crit against the big bad and then get 1s and 2s on their bucket o' dice. Or I could reach into my way-back pocket and talk about my group's foray into Star Wars: Saga Edition, where our Soldier popped a Destiny point (auto-crit) for his Blaster Rifle (3d8) and managed 8 damage total.
One thing my group has done (for some d20-based games, we haven't tried it for PF2e yet) is that crits, rather than dealing double damage, become more cinematic. Lopping off limbs or setting the enemy prone and forced to run for 2 turns... things of that nature. Of course, crits work both ways, so watching the Paladin be stunned for a round and shaken for a round after that because the bugbear hit him really really hard has also made for rather interesting RP opportunities in combat.
I agree that 18-20 is too much. I could see crit success on 19 at Expert, ignore crit-fail at Legendary.
Alternatively, ignoring crit-fail sounds more like a skill feat (and would be make more sense than the oddly juxtaposed Assurance feat we have today).
While the DC table is a good guide for what a challenging number would be at a given level; the GM should have a grasp on what is difficult for each of their players and give DC's based on that.
That's suuuuch a treacherous, slippery slope. If a GM is 'basing it off my sheet', they're essentially saying 'I want this to be hard for you, so a DC that would require you to roll a 15 on the die sounds appropriate'. At that point, why am I bothering to increase my skills? The GM is just going to raise the DC on me when I do anyway....
That's why the DC table is VERY important. Could it be tweaked? Absolutely, the math is a little... wonky in places, but ignoring it (often) means that players don't have anything to reach for... which is the entire point of all this math in the first place. Having a goal for your character to reach and getting there.
Using this system, a quick bit of math puts Incredible tasks on a PC that goes full ham into the 50% range:
Proficiency of 21 = 15 (level) + 6 (Legendary)
Incredible DC at level 15 is 37, on which your character is getting a +26 (before item or circumstance bonuses), so you need an 11 on the die (50% chance). Interestingly enough, you have the same chance to critically succeed on this task as anyone else (natural 20 only), which I would be upset about if this were the skill my character possessed at a LEGENDARY level.
Separately, a 50% chance with 'the best possible character' is supposed to happen at Ultimate, not at Incredible, which, at level 15, is going to require us to squeeze out another +3 from some item bonus (Note that the description includes 'help from other characters can make this easier', so we aren't counting the 4 or 5 spells your wizard buddy is tossing on you). Based on this math, I worry slightly that my Rogue with his LEGENDARY Athletics will actually have some trouble pulling off the 'really' complicated balancing act even when he's leaned into the skill with all his might.
But, separately from that, what bothers me is the critical success issue. Even with an Incredible task, I still have the same chance to critically succeed as the bumbling wizard to my left: a natural 20. The design goal with the 10+ rule for critical successes makes sense: if I'm really really good at something, I'm really only rolling to make sure I don't fail, rather than to make sure I succeed, so let my high rolls matter. This runs into the thematic issue outlined above, though, when the DCs are middling. Possibly the 'critical success' rules could be tweaked so allow a greater chance to critically succeed with higher training in the skill (beyond the 1 point you get from increasing your skill roll).
I don't know what the best way to do that would be, though. Lowering the critical success barrier by a flat amount just doubles down. You're one point closer to crit by virtue of getting +1 on the roll, do we really want to lower the threshold by 1 as well? Perhaps allowing critical success on 19's at Legendary helps here, as someone who is this well trained should pull a rabbit out of a hat more often than the rest of us.
Dustin Ashe wrote:
This, this, a thousand times this.
Beating a god of combat and taking his place is a great retirement point for a character. Referring to him in later chronicles is great, and really allows your players to feel that they've left their mark and honestly have a chance to affect real change (even if the 'new' Gorum now acts just like the old one).
Another thing to keep in mind is that magic (in many settings, at least) is different based on the spellcaster involved. How would the creator of the spellbook describe these spells? Allow that to inform your description of the spell effects.
Maybe the creator of the spellbook (or the caster of the protective spells, they don't need to be the same person!) would view the polymorphed dragons within not as guardians but as trapped souls. This could perhaps turn your imaging from writhing dragons to dragons that have been chained to the lock, constantly struggling to free themselves.
The more these images match the personality of the creator (or, perhaps more succinctly, the more the images run counter to the personality of the PC), the more likely your fluffy player is going to be intrigued by the images and the book. Maybe the image of chained dragons, to the PC, means that there are dragons trapped within, vying for freedom. Or perhaps they truly are a warning. Now you have a moral quandary and potential danger simply from opening a spellbook. At this point, what's the likelihood that this PC begins to investigate the origins of the book: who wrote it? how long ago? how likely are these spells to hurt me?
Each of the Elemental Burst special abilities follows a pretty similar template:
"... functions as a (elemental type) weapon that explodes upon striking a successful critical hit. This does not harm the wielder." (emphasis mine)
It goes on to talk about doing 1d10 points of damage (or more on weapons with different critical modifiers, etc).
There seem to be no rules that actually specify a radius burst of a particular size, so why call out that the effect cannot harm the wielder? In what way should I expect this to harm the wielder?